A question I get asked quite often is “Do bear in our area hibernate?” Ursus americanus (The American Black Bear) are often thought to hibernate in the south just as they do in the Northern United States. In reality they sleep very little during the colder months in The Southern Appalachians. But, they ARE more lethargic, aka – Winter Lethargy, and show themselves less often to those, like myself, who love to see them.
During the late summer, and into early autumn, the Black Bear find as much to eat as they possibly are able, (acorns, black walnuts, and dried corn left in fields, along with pumpkin and squash), to get the fat supply and nutrients needed to carry them through the winter months.
During much of the winter, the bear will live off of the fat supply within their own body. Female bear who will be having cubs in the late winter will den themselves further up the mountains but nearer to a food source. This is so they can replenish their fat supply if needed. There are many body mechanics that also go into play with how their body replenishes and uses their internal fat supply but that goes beyond the scope of this article. You and can always find that type of information by searching the internet!
A thicker coat is always a large part of the necessary items a bear will carry into their denning place. During the wintergy (as I like to call it) period, their body temperature normally decreases by about 10F, or 23C, and this results in a body temperature of around 90F. A thick winter coat not only protects the bear against the lower body temperature but is also very helpful in keeping newborn cubs warm within the den and snuggled up to their mother.
The male black bear, or boar, also feast themselves during the autumn to increase a fat supply along with developing a very thick winter coat. The boar will do more ranging throughout the winter, and will continually replenish their fat supply as needed (I like that concept). The boar is very much a solitary animal, as are the females, also know as the sow, with the exception of keeping their cubs with them for one to two years.
If we are lucky enough to see a black bear during the winter months in the Southern Smokey’s, or Southern Appalachian’s, it will usually be a male, or a female that did not reproduce during the winter. It is always a wise practice to continue bringing your winter bird feeders and squirrel corncobs in at night and keeping your trash closed up in a shed. This helps to prevent the wintering bear that may be roaming in your area from making an uninvited visit.